The inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge, a one-day bike ride and family-friendly 5K run/walk, kicked off this weekend! It began with a party at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night ahead of the main event on Saturday. Take a look at photos from the very first Eagles Autism Challenge.
At 7 a.m., with a steady rain well established in South Philadelphia, dozens of men and women mounted their bicycles and lined up along Lincoln Financial Field Way, waiting for the go-ahead to begin the 50-mile Wawa Classic ride that would take them through Center City Philadelphia, up to and through Manayunk, then Roxborough, and eventually into the surrounding suburbs, exchanged high-fives with quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz, chanted E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES and began pedaling to help change the world.
The Inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge was a two-day event at Lincoln Financial Field that was two years in the making intent to make generational advances in awareness of and research into defeating a condition that impacts one in 59 children who are identified on the autism spectrum, an increase of 15 percent in a calendar year. The Eagles Autism Challenge was the brainchild of Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and it debuted in spectacular, and collaborative, fashion, despite the nasty mid-May weather.
"Congratulations to all of you who didn't let a little rain get in the way of something so important," Lurie said afterward in the closing ceremonies. "Today was just the start of change."
The participants, 3,300 who registered and braved the elements to ride one of three distances – 50 miles, 30 miles, or 15 miles – or run/walk the Five Below 5k proved to be a hardy and resilient group that began the weekend on Friday at Lincoln Financial Field picking up their activities packets and eating and drinking at a festive Kick-Off Party in the West Club and ended making good on a commitment to cover some serious mileage for a great cause.
Every member of the organization had a hand in EAC. Cheerleaders were there. Alumni came out in large numbers to support the cause. The corporate community was heavily involved and invested.
As was the case when the Eagles roared through the 2017 season and went 3-0 in the playoffs while using home-field advantage to maximum capacity, this was a community event. Fans came from far and wide – Los Angeles, Florida, Fort Wayne, Indiana; Virginia, the Netherlands – one group of fans shouted out, "China. We're here from China." – when asked to offer their starting point on the journey to the finish line. Fans rubbed shoulders with the players and coaches, took selfies with them, had their hats and shirts signed, and generally hung out with the Eagles.
For a necessary cause.
"We're out here for a reason and that is to make a difference," Ertz said. "It's fun and it's something that is much, much bigger than what we do on the football field."
The fight against autism has a long way to go, and so does the opportunity for Eagles fans to help in the efforts. Donations, which grew to an impressive $2.3 million as the event ended, can still be made through the end of May, so don't hesitate to contribute. Every bit of help is needed to combat the rapidly moving disease.
"This shows more what our fans are all about," wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said. "All season they were with us every step of the way. Here they are again today supporting something we're doing. It's great to know that they have our backs."
The Eagles have long been pillars in the community, building playgrounds each year for more than two decades, employing the Eye Mobile every day for underserved children, engaging with local non-profits to help them see better days. As incredible and gratifying and life-changing as it was to defeat New England and win the Super Bowl in February, the long-lasting impact of fundraising events like the Eagles Autism Challenge is what truly defines a game-changer for those in need.
"It's always going to be a commitment of ours to lead the way in the community," president Don Smolenski said after he completed his 50-mile ride. "To see everyone out here side by side with every member of the Eagles organization is truly special. We are so deeply touched by the fans once again. It's been an incredible day. It's a very proud day for the Philadelphia Eagles and our fans to together to accomplish what we did here."
The day ended with a performance from Interscope Records artist Alex Aiono, who gave it his all for the rain-soaked crowd still in attendance, still waiting to dance the day away and celebrate doing something to help make change for the good.
"It was a great event and something that we wanted to participate in as a family and have some fun doing it," said Erich Sanchack, who completed the 50-mile ride with his brother and his father, all three former captains in the military and life-long Eagles fans who traveled from Florida and North Carolina for the weekend. "Great ride, a lot of energy out there and, even with the rain, something that I would recommend to anyone who wants to do it. It was cool to be part of something so meaningful."
That's the kind of weekend it was as the Eagles, champions on the field, continued their winning ways off the field and involved a community of fans and corporate partners to make the Eagles Autism Challenge a model of success for years to come.